Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Female Friendships - How to Handle the Drama

"She's my best friend.... I hate her!" Parents frequently hear these statements from their middle school/junior high and young adolescent daughters. One minute their child has a best friend and the next, they cannot stand each other. Parents feel the drama and they sometimes do not know what to do.

Female friendships among young girls can seem very confusing. At this age, girls are trying to figure out who they are, what they like, and what is important to them. They want to have friends, be liked, and fit in. They get upset when they feel left out, think they are not good enough, or believe some of their friendships are being invaded by other girls. For the most part, all of this is a normal part of the development process.

So, what are parents to do when one minute their daughter loves her best friend and the next, they are fighting? Parents do not like to see their children sad or hurting. The natural instinct is to jump in and fix things. In this case, as long as there is no serious danger (e.g., bullying, physical fighting, signs of depression, etc.), just being available to their child is usually enough. Listening to and being interesting in what she has to say, without forcing conversations, and empathizing with her feelings, while providing a space that is calm,  supportive, and understanding, can help the child work through the emotional ups and downs. This can also serve as a good model for relationships, in general, and help the child feel like she matters and is a part of something. A child who has the safety and security of a healthy family relationship is likely to have a stronger sense of self. When she feels confident and good about herself, she will be able to manage the storm of young adolescent relationships fairly unscathed.

Parents do not need to work so hard; they do not necessarily need to fix their daughter's relationships with her friends. They just need to make sure they are available to their daughter and that their daughter knows it. Knowing her parents are there for her - non-judgmental, calm, and caring - the daughter will likely be able to tackle things herself.